In Brief

Ebola crisis: WHO response criticised in damning report

West Africa paid a heavy price due to the organisation's delay in sounding the alarm, say health experts

The World Health Organization has come under fire from global health experts for failing to respond soon enough to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.  

"The most egregious failure [was the organisation's] delay in sounding the alarm," said Professor Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.  

The organisation waited until the August 2014 to declare a public health emergency, even though the outbreak was already out of control by spring. "The cost of the delay was enormous," says Jha.

The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 11,000 people since February last year – the vast majority of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – and is still ongoing. 

Three cases of the deadly virus were reported in Liberia last week, two months after the country was declared free of the disease.

The outbreak has caused "immense human suffering, fear and chaos, largely unchecked by high-level political leadership or reliable and rapid institutional responses," concluded the damning report.

The panel of independent experts, convened by the Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, made a series of recommendations for future outbreaks.

It went so far as to suggest that the organisation should be stripped of its role in declaring a disease epidemic to be an international emergency, reports The Guardian.

Other strategies included helping poorer countries monitor and respond to infectious diseases, greater accountability and the establishment of a global fund to finance the development of drugs. 

"Major reform [is] not only feasible, but also essential so that we do not witness such depths of suffering, death and social and economic havoc in future epidemics," Professor Peter Piot, the panel's chairman and the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, told the BBC.

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